Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Egypt Centre, Swansea

My column for the February 2014 issue of Swansea Life magazine.


Richard Thomas visits The Egypt Centre at Swansea University
The Egypt Centre opened in 1998 and holds a major selection of Egyptian antiquities largely formed by the 19th century pharmacist and archaeologist Sir Henry Wellcome, who collected them from excavations. There are two galleries and a shop sales area to visit, and the centre welcomes around 15,000 visitors each year.
On location: Located within the Taliesin building at Swansea University, the Egypt Centre is the only museum of Egyptian antiquities in Wales. The funerary items on display in The House of Death downstairs include: amulets, shrouds, statues, coffins and fragments of coffins, and even canopic jars, which were used by the Ancient Egyptians to store and preserve the internal organs of the deceased for their journey through the afterlife. Upstairs is the House of Life, where visitors can handle actual Ancient Egyptian artefacts under the supervision of one of the museum's excellent volunteers.
Backstory: There are over 5000 items in the collection. Most of them were collected by the pharmacist Sir Henry Wellcome, who collected artefacts from excavations all over Egypt, including Armant, Amarna, Deir el-Medina, Esna, Mostagedda and Qau. Other items came to the centre from other museums, including the British Museum.
Where: For sat-nav users the address and postcode is: Egypt Centre, Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea, SA2 8PP.
Opening hours: The Egypt Centre is open Tuesday to Saturday between 10am and 4pm. An hour is plenty of time to see all of the wonderful exhibits, but visitors are free to spend as much time as they like until closing.
Parking: There are some car parks close to Swansea University where the Egypt Centre is located. The Foreshore car park opposite St Helens Rugby ground and the Recreation Ground Car Park on Mumbles Road are good places to park, and only about a ten minuet walk to the university campus.
Crowd scene: The Egypt Centre is open to the public but also welcomes school visits from early years, primary and secondary school, right up to university level. Special needs groups are also welcome. To book a school or group visit phone: 01792 295960.
Noteworthy: There are over five thousand artefacts in the collection. These include several offerings from the British Museum. One of the most interesting artefacts on display is a statue of the historical Imhotep, the Ancient Egyptian who designed the first pyramid and who was made immortal in the Mummy movies.  
Show business: In the House of Life upstairs as well as handling actual Ancient Egyptian artefacts, including a flint knife and jewellery, you can also learn to play Senet, a popular board game played by the Ancient Egyptians. On display is a replica of the golden Senet board found in Tutankhamun’s tomb when it was opened in 1922 by Howard Carter. Downstairs in the House of Death you can watch a mock mummification, where pretend human organs are removed from a mummy dummy before it is wrapped in bandages. You will also learn about the trials the Ancient Egyptians believed they would face on their journey to the afterlife, including the weighing of the heart which is also demonstrated.
What about the kids:  Children will want to pick up some keepsakes in the Egypt Centre gift shop located on the ground floor foyer of the museum. As well as pens, pencils and key-rings, they can also bring home a Senet board to play the Egyptian board game at home after practicing in the House of Life with the volunteers.
What about the adults: Also on sale in the shop are a wide range of statues, recycled glass, papyrus from Egypt, and exclusive hand-made jewellery.
Prices: Admission to the centre’s two fantastic galleries is free!
Food and drink: The Taliesin cafébar just next door offers a full menu, including a selection of tapas and snacks for all different appetites.
Events: Once a month the Friends of the Egypt Centre society organises lectures in Fulton House, Room 2 at 7pm unless otherwise stated. On February 12, Felicitas Weber will give a lecture entitled “Learning is Not Just For Life, But For Death”. Tickets cost £3 at the door, or you can opt to buy a year membership for £16.50.
Staff: The knowledge of gallery assistants about the different museum displays is encyclopaedic, and they are easy to approach and friendly to talk to.
Top tip: Unfortunately due to limitations of space some of 5000 plus artefacts in the Egypt Centre’s collection are not on display. You can still see these ancient treasures, however, on the Egypt Centre website. Egypt Centre staff have created over a hundred pages of online content to browse through. Visit: www.swan.ac.uk/egypt.